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Senator Ben Ray Lujan announces additional funding for Las Cruces

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U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., visited the Las Cruces Fire Department (LCFD) Jan. 10 to announce more than $1 million in federal allocations to support crisis response and improve behavioral health services in Las Cruces.

LCFD’s Mobile Integrated Health (MIH) is “a program I’m really excited about,” Lujan told Las Cruces Fire Chief Jason Smith, firefighters, social workers and the media as he got an update on the program from Smith and MIH Coordinator Paul Ford.

Lujan, who suffered a stroke at his Nambe, New Mexico, home in January 2022, said the emergency services he received in route to a hospital in Santa Fe “saved my life. You do that every day,” he told the Las Cruces firefighters and EMTs.

“The work they did on me (in the mobile unit) is part of the reason I’m here today,” Lujan said.

Ford told Lujan LCFD responded to 22,850 calls for service in 2022. Less than one percent of those calls (211) were for fires; more than 62 percent (14,293) were for medical issues, including non-emergency transport, 1,263 “lift assists” (helping people in and out of bed, etc.) and 1, 251 calls to assist people who had fallen.

Ford said MIH was created in 2016 to deal with the high volume of 911 calls LCFD was receiving from a small number of people who needed assistance with non-emergency issues but did not have access to other healthcare services.

LCFD MIH now has 10 employees, including two full-time firefighter/paramedics, three social workers, a case manager and a data analyst, he said. It includes the Opiate Overdose Outreach (OOO) program and Operation BlueBird, which pairs Las Cruces police officers with MIH paramedics and social workers “to follow up on behavioral health referrals.”

“That personal touch; that’s what it’s all about,” said Las Cruces City Councilor Johana Bencomo, who participated in the Jan. 10 meeting.

“It’s pretty incredible. I’m very excited to continue our partnership,” said Families and Youth Innovations Plus (FYI+) Senior Clinical Director Lisa Chavez.

Chavez said FYI will expand its MOU with the MIH program. FYI+ Executive Officer Brian Kavanaugh also attended the meeting.

“It’s amazing how much trust the community has in the Las Cruces Fire Department,” said social worker Allison Stoner, who joined MIH in 2021.

Ford said more than three-quarters of the people MIH serves are senior citizens with mobility issues who cannot afford the caregiver services they need, and people over age 55 who have a mobility-related disability. Most are in poverty, he said.

Ford said more than one-third of MIH calls are for mobility-related issues, more than one-quarter are for mental health issues, 11 percent are dementia related, nine percent are housing vulnerable/homeless related and four percent are substance-abuse related.

MIH had 1,629 referrals from the fall of 2016 when it was created to Jan. 1, 2023, including 505 referrals in 2022. The program had 170 “graduates,” including 33 in 2022, Ford said.

Graduates refer to clients who are “the most complicated, at-risk people” and have had “good health outcomes” as a result of MIH service, he said.

“We’re very proud of these numbers,” Ford said.

Ford said MIH will launch Project LIGHT (Lessen the Incidence of Grief, Harm and Trauma) in early 2023, which will provide teams of trauma-informed firefighter/paramedics and social workers dispatched to deal with behavioral health issues, suicide attempts and ideations, overdoses, welfare checks and CPRs in progress.

Operation BlueBird will continue to operate alongside Project LIGHT, Ford said, so MIH can collaborate with the police department on behavioral health referrals. He said OOO will transition to a “Narcan leave behind program” as part of the Project LIGHT response model.

MIH and programs like it “need more people on the ground providing services,” Lujan said.

Other visits

During his visit to southern New Mexico, Lujan also visited students and staff at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Las Cruces to talk about the federal government’s investment in early childhood education programs.

He was at New Mexico State University Jan. 11 “to highlight $5.8 million secured for multiple projects” that involve NMSU, including agriculture and research, Lujan’s office said in a news release.

Lujan visited the New Mexico State Veterans Home in Truth or Consequences Jan. 12, and also visited Hatch Valley Public Schools “to celebrate the $200,000 funding secured to construct an animal science facility,” his office said.